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Mass labor uprising in Wisconsin

The Nation reports that over 10,000 Wisconsinites marched on the state Capitol yesterday; that students walked out of high schools throughout the state, and public employees held banners along roadways in defense of their collective bargaining rights. Governor Scott Walker is determined to strip state workers of those rights and “pack state government positions with political patronage appointees.” But workers aren’t having it.  “AFSCME President Gerald McEntee . . identified the Wisconsin fight as a “ground zero” struggle for organized labor.”

The protests, unprecedented in recent Wisconsin history, are being organized by union—the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the Wisconsin Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin and others—in anticipation of a Thursday vote on whether to give the governor powers that the senior member of the state legislature describes as nothing short of dictatorial.

The  battle has caught the attention of WSWS, which reports that “[t]he plan would divert 5.8 percent of workers’ pay to the state pension fund, and an additional 12.6 percent of their pay to employee health care premiums.”

After hearing that Walker had threatened to deploy the Wisconsin National Guard against the protesters, many commentators declared that the class struggle was about to become a class shooting war. Walker’s staff responded that the Governor was only planning on using the Guard to guard the state prisons if prison workers stayed away from work to strike. The truth of that response is uncertain, though, since multiple sources report hearing the Governor’s answer as leaving open the possibility of calling up the Guard in response to “worker unrest.”

Class seems thicker than politics in this fight: The AFL-CIO blog reports that

Conservative and Republican public employees across the state voiced opposition to a proposal by Gov. Scott Walker that would deny nurses, teachers, EMTs and other trusted public service providers the right to collectively bargain—a freedom that nearly every other Wisconsinite enjoys.
Calling Walker’s assault on middle-class jobs and public employees “anti-freedom” and a “big government power grab against individual rights,” the conservatives and Republicans make clear the opposition is not limited to progressives. Walker and Republican colleagues in the state legislature are attempting to rush through the measure this week.

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About Matt J. Stannard

Policy Director for Commonomics USA, longtime writer, speaker, and legal & policy consultant on economic justice and public deliberation.